More than 15,000 homes in Navajo Nation lack access to electricity, and it’s costly to put them on the grid. But a campaign backed by the American Public Power Association helped put a dent in that number.
For many, this is probably a surprising fact: Some people still don’t have access to electricity in the United States in 2019. But with the help of an association, some of them are getting on the grid for the first time.
This spring, the American Public Power Association (APPA) undertook an initiative to bring power to homes in the Navajo Nation, a territory that covers parts of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona (with Arizona making up the largest portion). According to Cronkite News, roughly 15,000 homes in this 27,000-square-mile region don’t have power. Homes are so spread out that it can be cost-prohibitive ($40,000 on average) to route energy to a single dwelling. And with roughly half of the 157,000 Navajos who live on the reservation unemployed, the local utility can’t raise prices to help pay for bringing power to the homes, which represent three-quarters of the homes without power in the United States.
Which is perhaps the reason why APPA and the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) launched the “Light Up Navajo” campaign, which spent six weeks connecting more than 225 homes to the grid. More than 24 public power utilities from around the country—including some from as far away as Massachusetts, Delaware, and Ohio—took part.
NTUA General Manager Walter Haase, APPA’s immediate past chairman, drew attention to the issue in presentations at events around the country, according to the Arizona Republic, and the resulting conversations led to deeper interest in helping the region.
“It’s not only about giving a family electricity for the first time,” Haase told the newspaper. “It’s about showing [that] people care about this community.”
It took more than a year for the local utility to plan the project. While it makes only a small dent in the problem, the addition of 224 homes to the grid means the utility is bringing electricity to more homes than ever this year. Manley Begay Jr., a Northern Arizona University professor of applied indigenous studies, says access to electricity could provide a major emotional boost for the community.
“Electricity itself provides a tremendous amount of convenience and having access to the world at large,” Begay told Cronkite News. “You can just imagine if you were to fill out an application for a job, you do it online and you send it in. Or you’re Googling for information; if you don’t have electricity, you’re in trouble.”
For people who don’t take power for granted, the project could provide a great change in fortunes.